“It is stupid to be categorically against technology. It is not stupid to be suspicious of technology.”
“Might solve a mystery / or rewrite history…”
—the Ducktales theme song
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My kids wanted me to sit and watch DuckTales with them this morning — the episode was “Armstrong” from the original DuckTales in 1987. Gyro Gearloose, a chicken and inventor who works for Uncle Scrooge, invents a “helpful” robot named Armstrong. Armstrong can do anything, and Uncle Scrooge quickly takes the opportunity to replace all of his labor force — his accountants and office workers, his loyal butler Duckworth, and pilot Launchpad — with Armstrong. Armstrong, of course, soon goes rogue, steals all of Uncle Scrooge’s money, and holds Scrooge and his inventor hostage.
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Later in the morning, I got one of Audrey Watters’ wonderful newsletters:
I regret to inform you that one of the biggest hustlers in the business came out this week with an essay that drew on Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto. As I’ve argued elsewhere here at Second Breakfast, you can readily connect fascism and wellness, eugenics and fitness — so let’s be really honest about what it means when someone like Marc Andreessen openly embraces this violent, right-wing machismo that he calls “techno-optimism.” Dave Karpf has a very good response, and you’ll learn more from reading that than you will reading anything that Andreessen has ever written or done. (Like most entrepreneurs, he has never “done the reading” and you have to wonder if he cribbed from Marinetti purposefully or, more likely, just coincidentally, is also “nourished by fire, hatred, and speed.”) Another book recommendation, while I think of it: Blood in the Machine by Brian Merchant. […] “Down with all kings but King Ludd.” — Ada Lovelace’s dad.
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Since I saw that manifesto, I had been been making my own short list of techno-skeptic books I would recommend to anybody who finds themselves tempted by such unfettered techno-optimist nonsense. It would include:
- Ursula Franklin, The Real World of Technology
- Neil Postman, Technopoly
- Wendell Berry, Why I am Not Going To Buy a Computer
and Thoreau, Mumford, Melville, etc.
I asked some of my friends to help with the list and the responses ranged from “oh lord I need to write my book about it” to “how much more can be written on this topic?”
(My friend Alan Jacobs, for example, has written an essay with the subtitle “Neil Postman Was Right. So What?” about how such books have been “utterly powerless to slow our technosocial momentum, much less to alter its direction.”)
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I myself am neither a techno-skeptic nor a techno-optimist, but probably more of what Karpf calls a “techno-pragmatist.”
What I am doing is looking for the appropriate technologies for doing the kinds of things I want to do — these are usually some weird mix of analog and digital, high-tech and low-tech — but always, adopting them thoughtfully requires asking the right questions of them.
Had he asked such questions, Uncle Scrooge would’ve saved himself a lot of trouble!